City of Chicago v. Mance, No. 21-1355 (7th Cir. 2022)Annotate this Case
Outstanding debt for Chicago traffic tickets surpassed $1.8 billion last year. Under a 2016 Chicago ordinance, when a driver incurs the needed number of outstanding tickets and final liability determinations, Chicago is authorized to impound her vehicle and to attach a possessory lien. Many drivers cannot afford to pay their outstanding tickets and fees, let alone the liens imposed on their cars through this process. Mance incurred several unpaid parking tickets; her car was impounded and subject to a possessory lien of $12,245, more than four times her car’s value. With a monthly income of $197 in food stamps, Mance filed for Chapter 7 bankruptcy and sought to avoid the lien under 11 U.S.C 522(f). When a vehicle owner files for Chapter 7 bankruptcy, she can avoid a lien under 522(f) if the lien qualifies as judicial and its value exceeds the value of her exempt property (the car). If the lien is statutory, it is not avoidable under the same provision.
The bankruptcy and district courts and the Seventh Circuit concluded that the lien was judicial and avoidable. The lien was tied inextricably to the prior adjudications of Mance’s parking and other infractions, so it did not arise solely by statute, as the Bankruptcy Code requires for a statutory lien.